WHENEVER I see an unfinished infrastructure projects funded by the government, the late Aber Canlas come to mind. The millennials certainly have no idea who is Aber Canlas but the seniors among us remember him as the hardworking public works official during his time serving as deputy minister of the Department of Public Works and Highways during the Ferdinand Marcos era. He was from Florida Blanca town here in Pampanga. He started as a foreman and rose from the ranks and became a member of Batasang Pambansa in early eightees, administrator of Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and was concurrently undersecretary of DPWH.
We reporters covering him were amazed on his work ethics. He was result oriented. He pitched tents where an important project was commissioned. As a proof, he was tasked by then First Lady Imelda Marcos to construct a venue for the 1975 Miss Universe pageant. On record time he was able to finish the Folk Art theatre in 70 days. He reclaimed a portion of the Manila Bay and until now despite strong typhoons and earthquakes, the infrastructure is still standing erect. That building is a memorial to Canlas’ outstanding achievement as a world class engineer. Compared today’s public works projects which sometimes it takes a year, and sometimes more, to complete a few meters of flyover. Example is the one sponsored by Senator Lito Lapid at the intersection of Porac and Angeles City. (Ayon, tignan ninyo nakatiwangwang. 2023 pa raw matatapos, sabi ng district engineer. Nagmumura araw araw ang mga motorista).
Another Canlas and a Capampangan too is Efren Canlas, a simple man from Sta. Barbara, Bacolor who made his fortune in construction business. His construction company Hilmarc started as a small outfit and he co-founded it with Hilario Cunanan and Lamberto Fuertes both from Sta. Ana and with Damian Ramos of Sto. Domingo, Mexico. It started really small in the mid- seventies with only a P100 thousand capital and was doing simple construction jobs like fixing box culverts. It was in the eighties when Cunanan decided to sell the business at P1.5 million to Canlas and Ramos. The two, who were classmates in Mapua Institute of Technology, are both civil engineers. The duo started speciallizing in constructing school buildings and one of their biggest clients was the University of the Philippines. Before Damian Ramos’ death he sold his shares to Canlas.
I remember one time, and this was years ago, when our Monday Club group was invited by the Ingco brothers, operators of the Bacolor cockpit in one big time derby event. I took notice of two men seated at the front row of the pit and they were very well attended. The “casador” was having a difficult time matching the placed bets on their fighting cocks which were quite big amounts. My curiosity led to their identities. The men were Efren Canlas and seated beside him was then Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto “Cado” Mercado. They were having fun as both love cockfighting.
Canlas is a nice and simple man, according my friend from Wednesday Club Rey Manalili. Him and Canlas traced their friendship years ago when the latter wasn't yet in the billionaires' league. “Canlas presides in maong pants and ordinary polo shirts on board meetings, that sometimes invited business people mistook him as an office functionary,” according to Manalili.